Why Work Ethic Still Matters And How To Improve Yours
80/20-ing your life doesn’t work
Everything important and fabulous in life is only possible with a strong work ethic. Without that, it is next-to-impossible to succeed in any endeavor.
Take for instance the followers of 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferris or “Lifestyle Designers.” Tim has done an amazing job of showing how you can build a business from anywhere only working 4 hours a week — outsourcing everything else to someone who’s good at it.
This is great for people who are looking for a side hustle and want to make a few thousand extra bucks a year. But by definition, it’s hard to grow it more than that without working longer than four hours per week.
If you look at the concept of the book, it puts the 80/20 rule or the Pareto’s principle on steroids to run a business. The rule says that 80% of the results come from 20% of the work done.
Again, there’s no harm in working smart. It’s a formula for happiness and productivity without killing yourself with overwork.
What it doesn’t do, however, is build something valuable with deep satisfaction and fulfillment.
If you want to create a Shopify store selling Segways on autopilot while driving traffic from social media ads, then yes, go for it. But the even more important thing to ask yourself is whether you’re satisfied doing this? Yes you can make the money you may desperately need, but what happens after that?
Will you add more products? Will you make a new store? Will you negotiate lower prices with your Alibaba supplier?
I’ve thought about setting up a Shopify store a hundred times. Because while working on my startup in college, I needed money to hire people. But never got around doing it. A few months back, I tried my hand at “Affiliate Marketing.”
That, like drop shipping, is another “Lifestyle Design” business. The best part? You don’t even have to find suppliers on Alibaba. You drive traffic to another business and get hard commissions. There are people who’re making millions from it.
I’ve seen people living on the beach with models roaming around their house, offering 5-hour long affiliate marketing webinars while getting down from their helicopter.
I quit two months later. For one, I wasn’t getting the results promised, and secondly, I felt like a scam. I could not tell my friends what I was trying to do because deep down I felt I was just selling crap I didn’t believe in, to people I didn’t know. Every time I wrote copy for an email or a landing page, I felt like a conman.
After a low-level existential crisis, I realized what I was doing wrong. I was trying to escape work ethic, 80/20-ing my life, and looking for shortcuts.
At the same time, I had dreams of doing something extraordinary.
Hence, the apparent message is, when it comes to mastering your craft or doing your life’s work like building a business that goes on after you die — don’t look for shortcuts to retirement.
What is “Work Ethic”
Let’s break the word down.
Ethics means, “A set of moral principles, especially ones relating to or affirming a specified group, field, or form of conduct.”
And what are morals? Morals are what you consider to be right or wrong. In other words, morals are your standards against which you decide if a thing is acceptable.
Putting two and two together, your work ethic comes from your standards. It depends on what you’re trying to build in your life.
As we talked above, if your goal is to have a lifestyle business, then it’s okay to work an hour a day.
But if your goal is to build something as huge as Apple, then the dynamics completely change right?
So before you think about improving your work ethic, think about what you’re trying to do with your life.
Everyone’s standards are different and I’m not here to judge. But don’t lie to yourself. Determine what kind of work you need to be doing to achieve what you want and then do that.
Since the importance of work ethic is clear, it’s time to learn practical ways to improve it.
Prepare, Prepare, Prepare
Proper preparation prevents poor performance.
Whatever you’re doing can be made much easier if you prepare the night before, the day before, the week before, and so on.
Have a test five weeks from now? Start scheduling your study sessions.
Have to workout first thing in the morning? Lay your clothes and workout gear the night before.
Have to write an article tomorrow morning? Prepare an outline the night before.
When you prepare, you can be sure of making the right choice, and not the easy one. It minimizes decision fatigue and takes willpower out of the question.
Take negotiation for instance. Often people believe negotiation skills come with practice and experience. Or worse, someone is born with an innate ability to persuade.
In his book Getting Past No, William Ury has a whole chapter on preparation. He says, “Before every meeting, prepare. After every meeting, assess your progress, adapt your strategy, and prepare again. The secret of effective negotiation is that simple: prepare, prepare, prepare.”
Most negotiations are won or lost even before the talking begins, depending upon the quality of preparation. Failing to plan is planning to fail.
If you think you can take it “as it comes” you’re in for an unpleasant surprise.
Be So Consistent I Can Bet On You
People with a strong work ethic have strong routines that they reiterate every day.
They get up at a certain time, do their morning routine, and start working. It’s so predictable you can bet on it.
For instance, you can bet on the fact that I’ll be up by 5:30 in the morning, meditate till 7:00, workout and then start working by 7:30 or 8:00. Rarely will you ever lose the bet.
Routines create momentum, they automate good decisions and they get things done. Lack of routine breaks momentum and it’s a pain in the rear to get it going again.
Are you predictable every day? If not, why don’t you have a set routine?
If you do have a routine, are you following it every day? If not, why not?
Make Higher Choices, Don’t Sacrifice
Successful people don’t make sacrifices, they make higher choices.
Be greedy — don’t look for temporary distractions and chase fleeting joy. Be after the deep fulfillment and satisfaction that comes after putting in a good days’ work.
The reason most of us don’t make these choices is we think in terms of sacrifices. We put way too much emphasis on what we’re giving up.
When you focus on what you’re losing, you’ll end up making a bad decision.
To change yourself and your outlook on work, all you need is a simple reframe.
“I can’t go to the movies because I have to work all night” → “I choose to work and not go to the movies to improve my business.”
“I can’t watch Netflix because I promised myself to read 30 pages.” → “I choose not to watch Netflix and instead read and invest in myself.”
Small reframes can make a huge difference.
Do it Now
Procrastinate tomorrow. Do the work now.
This works especially well for small tasks and errands that you’ve been putting off. I fall victim to this every day. But I try to fight back.
Make that call now. Pay off that bill now. Think about the structure of the article now. Write that email now. Text the person now.
Speed matters, especially in small things. The faster you can do them, the more time you have to work on things that matter.
Work with someone who says “two more calls” when you’re exhausted.
You know what I’m talking about. It’s always fun to work out with that guy who keeps pushing you to add a little bit more weight to the bar.
Accountability partners keep you on track. If left to our own whims and fancies, we’ll not work as hard as we need to.
Ryan Holiday makes commitments to do work that is beyond his comfort zone and then uses his desperation as fuel to achieve it. For instance, he uses social pressure (signing a book deal) and deadlines, self-imposed or otherwise, to get shit done.
You can recreate this strategy in your own life. Make commitments to your accountability partners and see your productivity rise. If you still think you can do as much without increased accountability, you’re either delusional or have superhuman willpower.
Plug The Leaks
There are lots of little things that can take time away from you.
“Hopping on” to a five-minute call, water-cooler conversations, Slack messages, notifications, watching TV while having lunch, etc are some examples of leaks in your day.
Once you fix these leaks you can invest your energy on tasks that move the needle. You get it done faster, and you feel less stressed because let’s face it — these leaks take a piece of your mind every time.
Make Checklists For Everything
One of the best ways to plug the leaks is to make checklists for every single thing you can think of.
Checklist free mental RAM. There’s a reason pilots still use them. There’s a reason why a checklist saved $2 Million and 8 lives in one year in a hospital.
Make a list of things you carry outside, a list of tasks to do for the day, a list of things you do when you call a prospect, a shutdown list, etc. There are a million possibilities.
Checklists are the most underrated tool. They keep you disciplined without thinking too much.
Find Your One Thing — Cut the Fat
Don’t work for the sake of it. Work on things that matter. Ask yourself the focusing question :
“What’s the one thing you can do, such that by doing it, everything else will be easier or unnecessary?
I love this question because it gives a new insight every time. For example, for growing my readership, my one thing is to write quality content as often as I can. That makes everything else easier or irrelevant.
Work on things that make you feel satisfied no matter how tired you feel afterward. Find your one thing. Everything else is commentary.
Finally, Have Your Own Strategy to Avoid Burnout
Even though the vibe of this post may say otherwise, I’m not advocating you work hard till your eyes drop out and your fingers bleed.
The goal is to improve your work ethic in the long-run. You should be able to put in the same effort for years on end. But that kind of energy is not possible if you don’t have your daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly recharges.
Plan something you dearly enjoy. And then do it. You’re not taxing your productivity you’re investing in it.
Take any successful person in ancient or modern history and you’ll find a hobby. Winston Churchill loved painting so much he wrote a book on it called Painting as a Pastime.
Your only competition is you. Work hard, but don’t impose arbitrary standards that derail your progress.
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